The peeper chorus is at full column theses spring nights. It sounds to me like hundreds of sleigh bells ringing in our wetlands large and small. Each of our amphibians has a different voice, and it’s always fun to pick out a familiar voice in the swampland chorus. There are many electronic aids such as computer sites and apps to help you learn them. I also like the book “Maine Amphibians and Reptiles” put out by The University of Maine Press, which includes a recording in it with the sounds of all the frogs and toads living in Maine. I find it great fun to learn their voices and to actually recognize each one in the outdoors. Their individual songs are very distinct.
A hike in the woods and fields now is a delight to those of us interested in the native flowering plants coming into bloom. Goldthread is in bloom and a nice one to look for. This plant is a member of the buttercup family and grows from 3-6 inches in the cool mossy bogs and damp forest. It has shiny, green, three-part leaves in a beautiful carpet on the floor of the woods. Even when not in flower, goldthread is attractive, but it is especially beautiful when the small, fragile white flowers appear. These blossoms look like tiny anemones on a leafless stalk showing their five to seven showy, white petals. These blossoms are pollenized by fungus gnats living in the abundant fungi found growing in a damp habitat. They also are visited by fungus-feeding beetles. The entire goldthread blossom is constructed to encourage these visitors. The showy petals attract their attention. The enormous petals furnish them food. The many small stamens with white anthers and white pollen furnish a surface to walk upon with a background in which the yellow nectar cups are distinctly visible. If you should dig up the tiny roots, you will see that they look like golden threads, and thus its name. This plant grows on all elevations here on Mount Desert Island. I have found especially luxurious patches on Western Mountain.
If you want to have some good views of the large goshawks living and nesting here on our island, I suggest going to the high school and walking or just being observant in that area. There is a trail closed at one spot, for the birds are nesting, and when nesting, they fiercely protect their territory. Listen for their sharp cry and pay attention to the warning. Retreat immediately. Have your camera ready for some nice photo opportunities. When dropping off one of my grandchildren one morning, my daughter-in-law caught sight of one of these birds stooping on its prey in the grass and flying off with it. They catch birds in flight and also eat small mammals such as squirrels and hares.
The goshawk is a year-round resident here on MDI. It measures about 21 inches. An eagle measures 31 inches, to give you an idea of its size. Peregrines are 16 inches. Kestrels or sparrow hawks are 9 inches. Goshawks are fast, powerful, large and beautiful. It is only around nesting time that they are territorial and resent any intrusion.
A fall recently has me grounded for a few weeks, and I have been watching a pair of phoebes nest building on the top of a little-used door. These birds are more conspicuous by their friendliness and actions than their appearance. Phoebes are gray-brown above and whitish below. Their habit of frequently bobbing their tails helps you to identify them. They frequently sit on a limb or utility wire with tail bobbing. From their perches on a wire or tree branch they dart out after some insect on the ground. Once the chosen spot is agreed upon, the nest is built and the eggs are laid. The female does all the incubation. Both parents will feed the young. Once the young have left the nest, the female may start another brood. Cowbirds frequently lay their eggs in a phoebe’s nest so that the much smaller bird has quite a job trying to feed it. Cowbirds do not make a nest of their own. About 25 percent of the cowbirds’ young are raised by phoebes much to the detriment of the phoebe’s own young. Cowbirds have been recorded as successfully parasitizing 144 species.
A pair of chickadees is nesting not far from my house and near the driveway. Cars coming in and out are often attacked by these small, perky birds, for the tiny chickadees can see their reflection in the glass and are fiercely trying to get rid of an intruder. The only way to solve this bird’s dilemma was to have the cars park out of the zone the phoebes had declared as their space. Covering the cars with a tarp or blanket seemed too much to do but also would have solved the problem. Birds keep fighting their reflection as long as they can see it during the nesting season.